Wherever You Go read-along discussion, part one

Avis and I welcome you to our first discussion of Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant. We will be discussing the first half of the book, chapters one through eleven. If you haven’t read that far yet, be warned that there may be spoilers in this post and/or in the comments section.

If you’re interested, it’s not too late to join in. The book is 253 pages long, so it would be easy to catch up. To join, click over to the sign-up post on She Reads and Reads.

To start, I think that we picked an excellent book for discussion, as it deals with so many issues: family, faith, relationships. Joan lives half the year in Israel, and I’m sure she has her very own strong opinions on the issue of the settlements and the Palestinians – and yet she has managed to give us a variety of characters with viewpoints that range the spectrum on both Judaism and the Jewish homeland. When I read a book about a political or religious hot-button issue, I am always curious to see if the author will be able to keep the novel even-handed and not write a manifesto of their own opinions. So far, Joan has done that – and the result is that the book is very character-driven, rather than issues-driven.

I don’t want to turn this post into a review, since I have only finished half the book, but I did want to quickly mention that, along with well-written characters, Joan knows how to write setting beautifully. Without being heavy-handed with details, she put me right into the places the characters were, from the overrun-by-children home of Yona’s sister, to the drugged-out apartment of Mark’s ex-girlfriend, to the beautiful streets of Jerusalem.

As a Christian, I was amazed at how familiar some of these issues are to me. It seems that, no matter the religion, you have people who seek the radical fringes, people who decide to forgo the faith altogether, and people who continue to question and seek, while struggling to believe.

In order to get the discussion going, I thought I’d throw out some questions to give you all a jumping-off point. Feel free to answer the questions in your own post or in my comments section – or to skip the questions and simply write your thoughts on the book so far.

~ Wherever You Go has three main characters: Yona, Mark, and Aaron. Which character do you relate to most? Least?

~ Have you ever felt so passionately about a cause that you were willing to change your lifestyle to embrace it, like Yona’s sister has?

~ The relationship between Mark and his father is dysfunctional and strained. Do you think his decision to embrace his religion is somehow related to that? Why or why not?

~ What do you think of Yona’s past actions that caused the estrangement with her sister? Is Dena justified in continuing to hold such a bitter grudge?

~ Aaron’s character remains a bit of a mystery to me so far. I can’t decide if his decision to enter the settlement is simply a rebellion against his father or from a deep-seated belief in the cause. What do you think?

I look forward to reading your thoughts! And don’t forget to visit Avis’s blog, She Reads and Reads, next Saturday – Joan Leegant will be guest posting. Avis will also be hosting the discussion of the second half of the book on October 29th. And as you’re reading, write down your questions for Joan and e-mail them to me at nnjmom at yahoo dot com. The deadline for questions is October 31st – I will post the questions and Joan’s answers here on November 5th.

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13 Responses to Wherever You Go read-along discussion, part one

  1. I actually had a bit of a hard time getting into this book at first; I found some of Joan’s similes weren’t working for me. But past the first chapter or so, I was enthralled. I agree with you that she does a great job of setting the scene(s) and creating characters who are believable and human, rather than caricatures.. I also like that we are already seeing possible links between the characters.

    Your questions are great, Carrie! My favourite character so far is Mark. I’m very curious to see what happens to him; I guess his questioning/doubting is what I can identify with the most. The other two remain more of a mystery to me. I’m kinda horrified by the Dena/Yona story: I can’t imagine sleeping with my sister’s partner, but at the same time, it seems to me that there’s more to Dena’s grudge that that. Given that both sisters have moved on (Dena is married to someone else; Yona is no longer with what’s-his-name), it seems to me that it should be possible for Dena to let go of her anger, or at least talk about it. (Inasmuch as I can’t imagine sleeping with my sister’s partner, I also can’t imagine not talking to her for 10 years!).

    I’m going to think about your other questions for a bit (and come back!). Oh and I hope you’ll answer your own questions!

  2. I too had a bit of difficulty getting started with this book and actually have read the opening chapter three times. I’m not Jewish and found some of the words and terms a stumbling block. And I don’t like the use of the phrase ‘like what’ eg ‘chaining themselves to defiant trailers like what you saw on the front page of the New York Times’. Each time I read ‘like what’ I cringe, but fortunately it doesn’t crop up much.Once I’d got over this I’m now enjoying the book and agree the descriptions of the locations are very good.

    My favourite character is Mark, but maybe that’s because so far it’s mainly about him and I like his questioning mind and kindness. As for Yona and her sister – I think, like Avis, there must be more to it than we know so far, but then Dena is such a passionate and cause-driven character that maybe she finds it too hard to forgive. Aaron so far I’m undecided about – he seems a bit pathetic and I do think he’s reacting to his father, but then so is Mark.

    • Margaret, I totally agree — her similes at the beginning of the book were driving me crazy. (Though I confess to loving this one: “His leg was bobbing up and down and he seemed to be blushing, as if he were about to lose his virginity.” — it’s a bit over the top, but somehow worked for me anyway.) Luckily, I either stopped noticing them or she stopped using them so much after the first chapter. (I think the latter.)

      And I agree that Aaron seems a bit pathetic so far, but still very real.

      Oh and I also stumbled over some of the unfamiliar term — I wish the book had come with a glossary!

      • CarrieK
        Twitter: booksandmovies

        Margaret and Avis – Now that you say that I remember a couple of similes that I thought were over the top, too, but forgot about them as I got sucked into the story.

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  5. Here are a few of my further thoughts on this book: I don’t know much about the Israel-Palestine situation (and nothing about the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories), other than the broad strokes, but I’m struck by how similar fanaticism is across belief systems: the belief that you are the chosen people, with God on your side; the slide into violence (which is only hinted at so far in this story); the push for building the movement through increased population (which turns women into baby machines); etc. I’m interested to see how this story plays out. It’s an ambitious novel and yet it’s also relatively short!

  6. CarrieK
    Twitter: booksandmovies

    Avis – I agree – that issue of extremes of faith seems to be something that occurs in many religions.

    I definitely relate to Mark most – with his struggle to hold on to his faith, his questioning. I am solid in my faith now, but have gone through times of questioning – not so much my faith itself, but the various things I was taught about that faith. I guess I relate to Aaron least – his reasons for entering the kibbutz don’t seem very well-thought-out or mature.

    I think there must be more to Dena’s grudge – I’m wondering if she entered the settlements as a knee-jerk reaction to her sister’s betrayal, and now blames Yona for being stuck there as well as the affair.

    I know I have more questions to answer, but I’m exhausted! I promise I will try to be more engaged in the discussion – but I’ve been crazy busy this week. 🙂

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  8. Melissa
    Twitter: avidreader12

    Sorry I’m late to the discussion. Vacations always put you in catch-up mode for weeks. I love the questions though.

    – So far I don’t actually feel too connected to Yona, Mark, or Aaron, maybe that will come in the second half of the book.

    – I’m a Christian and I think that’s a daily struggle to change your lifestyle.

    – I think sometimes we may think we’re doing something because we believe strongly in it, but subconsciously it’s to defy our parents. So maybe it’s a bit of both.

    – I don’t think Dena’s justified to hold the grudge for 10 years if Yona has been sincere in her apology and efforts to reconcile. I think it’s probably just an excuse to keep Yona out of her life.

    – I’m not sure about Aaron’s decision either. Again, I think this falls in the subconscious category and Aaron’s decision is being affected by a desire to defy his father, even if he doesn’t realize it.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Melissa – oh, the daily struggle. I agree – the struggle between what we should do and what we actually do – it’s exhausting. I finished the book yesterday, and I’m curious to see what your feelings are after you finish.

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